For writers, it’s good to go somewhere unexpected, to explore new territory, to take a leap. For me that happens to be a foray into the realm of fiction.
I have several people in my creative writing workshop whose primary genre is fiction, and so I devised a workshop prompt that sent them in search of unusual possibilities to be used as storytelling basics: protagonist, conflict, obstacles, complication, and resolution. I was really proud of my prompt, up until the moment I had to use it along with the other workshoppers.
What on earth was I thinking? I don’t write fiction. I don’t even lie well.
As a writer, I think of myself as a problem solver, a wordsmith, and a storyteller. But creator of whimsical and magical worlds? Not so much. I tend to be a stick-to-reality kind of writer, even in verse.
While everyone else got down to business, scrawling in their notebooks, I did some silent swearing. I did a lot of scratching out. I heaved a sigh. I got up and moved away from the group, whose every little pen scratch on paper became a maddening distraction and a taunting reminder of other people’s progress where I was making none.
Pride egged me on. From the silly plot points I’d gathered from random sources, I began to write a story about a punk rock yoga instructor (protagonist) whose class idea is stolen by a corporate gym (conflict). My obstacle had to be some interpretation of “Beware the Tiger” (I decided to make this the protagonist’s cat, Ashtanga), the complication was an invasion of the beautiful people (this worked pretty naturally with the gym idea), and the story had to resolve using “Why should the mountain goats have all the fun?”
I couldn’t decide which I hated most: myself, my writing prompt, or the strange collection of plot points I’d assembled.
Soon, however, something magical started to happen, I started to have fun outside the realm of reality. For the first time, I wasn’t just moving the facts around to create suspense or working into the language to describe a real life thing in unique, dynamic language. I started to get to know and like my character, even in just that half-hour exercise.
Pushing myself outside my comfort zone allowed me to discover something that might actually change how I approach writing. I can’t say for certain, but it feels as though something shifted in me, let me move past the rational mind and into another place. My story isn’t finished, but I’ve found myself working on it in my mind all morning. I don’t want to leave my punk rock yoga instructor hanging, and I want to know what mountain goats have to do with corporate theft of intellectual property.